Deborah Pope, whose 15 years of oversight and guidance transformed Doris Duke’s Shangri La from a private home into a center of Islamic arts and culture, announced Monday her intention to retire as executive director at the end of the year. A search will be conducted for her successor.
Under Pope’s leadership, Shangri La first opened to the public for visitation in the fall of 2002 and gradually expanded to include a variety of offerings that deepen public understanding of the arts and cultures of Muslim societies, such as lectures, performances and residency programs. In addition, Pope oversaw the cataloguing, preservation and restoration of Shangri La’s architecture and art collections, and with each step, made them available for public viewing.
The most recent achievement on this front was the restoration of the Mughal Suite, Doris Duke’s Mughal Indian-inspired bedroom and bathroom, which opened for tours in October 2014. Pope has also overseen the development of Shangri La’s traveling exhibition Doris Duke’s Shangri La: Architecture, Landscape and Islamic Arts, and its accompanying book published by Rizzoli, which is now in its fourth printing. The exhibition, which opened in September 2012, has appeared in museums in seven cities across the continental U.S. and is currently at the Honolulu Museum of Art, its final stop on the tour.
“I have had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be part of a true ‘start up,’ and I have relished every step of the way,” said Pope. “It was quite visionary of Doris Duke to foresee the importance of her collection and home as a place for improving public understanding of Islamic arts and cultures and to ensure that purpose in her will. Shangri La is a uniquely wonderful set of cultural resources with a stunning site, important architecture and collections, thriving programs and ever-more potential. Thanks to the devoted and capable staff members who bring both a high level of stewardship and a commitment to public engagement to their work, Shangri La is well positioned for a change in leadership. I am proud to have been associated with the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art for so many years.”
A lifelong resident of Oahu, Pope has worked for more than 40 years in the fields of museum administration, education and historic preservation. Prior to assuming her post at Shangri La, Pope served as executive director of the Hawaii Museums Association from 1994-2000, providing training and support to museums, historic sites, botanical gardens and cultural centers throughout the state. She previously served as director of the Mission Houses Museum, a National Historic Landmark, in Honolulu from 1988-1994, as assistant director from 1986-1988 and Curator of Education from 1978-1986. Pope has served as an adviser to the National Trust for Historic Preservation and Historic Hawaii Foundation.
“It is a joy to celebrate Deborah Pope’s accomplishments,” said Ed Henry, president of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art. “Shangri La, now a national treasure and an international resource, started as a vision of Doris Duke and has been realized through Deborah’s extraordinary work and insight. The importance of the collection, the site and the learning opportunities blossomed under Deborah’s leadership. She has been a magnificent colleague and a true steward of the legacy of Doris Duke.”